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About this book

A contemporary reflection on current practice, this book gets to the heart of what 'youth work' is about. It provides an in-depth overview and analysis of practice,addressing the many experiences of working with young people through insightful chapters written by practitioners themselves.

Table of Contents

1. Introducing youth work

A lot of people call themselves ‘youth workers’. They can be found in many settings — in churches and religious organisations, local voluntary groups and in large international movements such as the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), and scouting and guiding. Schools and colleges, prisons, large not-for-profit organisations and state-provided children’s and young people services also host what they describe as ‘youth work’. New forms and locations are appearing all the time, and organisational boundaries have shifted at some speed in many countries over the last few years. Yet much of this movement, although significant, can serve as a distraction by encouraging us to focus attention on the way youth work is organised and managed instead of looking to its core features and what it does. For that reason we focus on practice — the judgements, values, ideas and activities that have consistently served to give it a discrete identity (Carter et al. 1995: 3–5). We attend to the ways in which youth workers think, feel and act, and what informs such processes.
Tony Jeffs, Mark K. Smith

2. Relationships, Friendship and youth work

A central task for any youth worker has always been the need to construct and sustain educational and social relationships with young people. The nature of these relationships and the ways in which workers need to drawboundaries around them has long been a focus for discussion. In this chapter Huw Blacker explores the place of relationships in youth work, how they can be developed and sustained, the linkages between professional relationships and friendship and the ways in which workers balance authority, friendship and accessibility.
Huw Blacker

3. Engaging in conversation

Youth workers are constantly engaged in conversations with young people, colleagues and members of the widercommunity. An ability to use words with sensitivity and skill is an essential attribute for all youth workers. Heather Smith looks at ways in which we can foster productive conversations and use them in our practice.
Heather Smith

4. Being with an other as a professional practitioner: uncovering the nature of working with individuals

Youth workers have always predominately fixed their attention upon the group, whether in the club or on the street. The bulk of youth work texts reflect this pre-occupation. However, in all settings workers will at times be required to focus on the individual. In this chapter David Collander-Brown examines how this shift in emphasis can be effectively managed; how youth workers can create the space for the individual within the practice setting.
David Collander-Brown

5. ‘The cultivation of gifts in all directions’: thinking about purpose

What should be the main purposes of youth work? In this chapter, Dod Forrest addresses this question by presenting a model of youth work as aprocess that linkspersonal development, group work, collective association and social movements for radical change. While, like earlier chapters, this stresses the importance of relationships it also emphasises the place of community in young people’s lives and the need for youth work to possess a social action dimension.
Dod Forrest

6. Programmes, programming and practice

In this chapter sustained attention is paid to the content, structure and, above all, the centrality of the programme within youth work. The previous chapter discussed ways in which young people can engage with the process of developing programmes of activities. Here Ruth Gilchrist considers how this can be encouraged and the challenges this poses for youth workers in various settings.
Ruth Gilchrist

7. Activities in youth work

Building on the previous chapter this contribution examines the place and value of activities within the youth work programme. Sean Harte examines their role and function as well as the ways in which youth workers can effectively employ activities to achieve educational ends.
Sean Harte

8. Advising and mentoring

This chapter, drawing in part on research interviews undertaken by Gina McLeod, seeks to explore issues and questions such as when it is appropriate, or not, to be an adviser or mentor and what these processes mean for practitioners and young people alike. Finally, the chapter considers the tensions arising between advising and mentoring.
Gina Mcleod

9. Enhancing group life and association

This chapter examines the potential benefits of group life and association within youth work. In doing so Gill Patton looks briefly at the history of group work with its emphasis on voluntary associations and communities organising themselves for their own benefit. The encouragement of groups and associational life can be seen as a foundation for democratic ways of life and holds the potential for engaging with wider political processes. From there she turns to recent research highlighting individual and civic benefits of belonging to groups and then on to some practice issues.
Gill Patton

10. Working with Faith

A high proportion of youth work has always been sponsored and supported by faith organisations. Currently in Britain a majority of youth workers are employed by such organisations. However, it is not only those employed by faith-based agencies who are called upon to discuss and debate matters of a spiritual nature with young people. Questions such as ‘Where is God?’ and ‘Who made God?’ cannot be easily answered. Responses to them, whatever form they take, require faith. Effective work with young people will encourage an exploration of questions that can only be responded to with further questions. At times such as these youth work enters into the realm of faith.
Howard Nurden

11. Managing and developing youth work

If managers are to manage youth work effectively they needed to understand its occupational culture. Key features of that culture include a concern with person-centred approaches, a belief in the need to promote active involvement in decision making and the notion of the worker as an activist and campaigner. Gill Millar discusses ways whereby managers can ‘take people with them’ in building effective youth work organisations. This means looking beyond ‘systems’ approaches towards a management model sympathetic to the values and culture of youth work.
Gill Millar

12. Sustaining ourselves and our enthusiasm

Youth work, like many other welfare occupations, can be stressful and challenging. Variable work patterns and the demands placed on practitioners by those they work with and for can be draining and excessive. Successfully managing these pressures over time is an essential function of being a professional. Carole Pugh looks not only at the problematic nature of the work but also at the strategies practitioners make use of to effectively cope with them.
Carole Pugh

13. Monitoring and evaluating youth work

As the amount of youth work sponsored by local and central government has grown so we have seen an increase in the extent to which the practice of workers and performance of agencies has been monitored and evaluated by funders. John Rose looks at the implications this has for practice and the benefits and problems arising from a heightened increase in the monitoring and evaluation of youth work.
John Rose


All times are times of transition. Although it is possible to identify continuities within youth work, for example the focus on conversation and relationships, the need for relevance and the centrality of voluntary affiliation, social and political changes have unceasingly restructured the work since its beginnings in the early years of industrialisation. Unending adaptation will be a feature of practice in the decades to come, just as in the past. As society changes and the experiences of young people simultaneously alter, youth work must re-order itself to avoid marginalisation and irrelevance. For the informal educational core to endure it is always necessary for the periphery to be in a permanent state of flux.
Tony Jeffs, Mark K. Smith
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